FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - University of Tennessee track & field freshman phenom Jake Blankenshiprecorded a fourth-place finish in the men's pole vault in his first appearance at the NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships on Friday night in Fayetteville, Ark.
Blankenship, who was named the SEC Men's Freshman Field Athlete of the Year after notching a second-place finish at the league championships, was part of an epic battle on day one of nationals at the Randal Tyson Track Center.
"Jake had an unbelievable series, not missing a height until 18-feet, 4.5-inches," said Director of Track & Field/Cross Country J.J. Clark. "He had some great jumps and finished fourth. The biggest thing is we're very proud of how Jake came in here as a freshman and competed against the best in the country. He wasn't afraid to get in there and mix it up. His event coach, Russ Johnson, has done a fantastic job with him and we look forward to many good years with Jake in the future."
The rookie moved into first place by clearing the first six heights on his first attempt, including a spot of 18-feet, 2.5-inches (5.55m), which tied his lifetime best and his own UT freshman record. After missing his first two vaults at 18-4.5 (5.60m), Blankenship set a new personal record and improved his Big Orange rookie record by surpassing the mark on his third attempt. In addition to moving him into the final four, the clip also tied the Blacklick, Ohio, native for second all-time with legendary Vol and 2004 Olympic gold medalist Tim Mack on the Tennessee indoor records list.
Seeking to become the Vols fourth indoor NCAA champion in the event, the 6-foot freshman was unable to clear the next mark of 18-6.5 (5.65m). Arkansas' Andrew Irwin, who went head-to-head with Blankenship for the SEC title, claimed his second-straight NCAA indoor title with a collegiate season-best mark of 18-8.25 (5.70m). Irwin's winning height last season was only 18-2.5 (5.55m).
Blankenship, who earns five points for the Vols, was the top finishing freshman in the event. It was the best NCAA indoor finish from a Vol pole vaulter since Lawrence Johnson claimed gold in 1996.
Senior Nijgia Snapp- a first-time national indoor qualifier - was representing the Lady Vols in the women's 800-meter. Snapp, who was only two laps into the race, was unfortunately tripped-up trying to avoid a two-competitor pile-up directly in front of her. Snapp finished the opening heat in 2 minutes, 19.68 seconds and did not qualify for Saturday's final in the event.
"Nijgia got into a position where someone tripped in front of her and it knocked her down," Clark said. "We filed a protest, which was denied. The officials agreed that she was impeded on, but it was their discretion to not put her back into tomorrow's final.
"We were obviously disappointed with that decision, but very happy to see Jake perform so well."
Junior Linda Hadfieldwill look to earn some points for the Lady Vols on Saturday, as she competes in the pole vault at the NCAA Indoor Championships for the first time of her career. Hadfield and the other 15 competitors are set to begin vaulting at 6:30 p.m. ET.
For updates throughout the meet and season, be sure to follow @Vol_Track on Twitter.
VOL RESULTS AT THE NCAA INDOOR CHAMPIONSHIPS
Pole Vault: 4. Jake Blankenship, 18-4.5/5.60m!fr
LADY VOL RESULTS AT THE NCAA INDOOR CHAMPIONSHIPS
800m Prelims: dna. Nijgia Snapp, 2:19.68b/Ht. 1, 8th (16th)
! - Personal Best, ^ - Oversized Track, $ - SEC Record, a - American Record, b - Banked Track, c - Collegiate Record, adv. - Advanced, dna - Did Not Advance, dnf - Did Not Finish, dnr - Did Not Run, dq - Disqualified, F - Foul, f - Facility Record, fr - Freshman Record, fr* - Tied Freshman Record fs - False Start, H - Heptathlon, h - Hand-Timed, mr - Meet Record, nm - No Mark, p - Time Run In Prelims, P - Pentathlon, sr - School Record, u - Undersized Track, wr - World Record